By David Joel Miller.
The use and misuse of substances, drugs, and alcohol, is the number one issue for most men who come to counseling.
Traditional counseling with its emphasis on feelings and learning to communicate has let a lot of men down. Even when we have talked about gender-specific counseling strategies, gender mostly meant women. Men got left out. That is beginning to change.
What brings men to counseling.
Most men do not come to counseling willingly. Usually, they are forced, by the legal system, by their spouses and partners, or because they are out of work and required to do something to get further assistance.
Furthermore when men get to the therapy room most often they experience a woman professional whose focus is on telling them that what they have learned about their role as a man is wrong and that to be mentally healthy they need to think and act more like a woman.
Men get the bulk of their counseling these days in prisons and drug rehabs.
Drugs and alcohol permeate men’s lives, their experiences of what it means to be a man and the way in which drug and alcohol use has interacted with the other parts of their lives. Here are some reasons men develop poor relationships with drugs and alcohol.
Men often begin to use and abuse substances at an earlier age than women.
They are often introduced to substances by an older male family member or a close male friend. Women, you need time to catch up. Women commonly get shown how to use substances by a boyfriend.
This early use results in gaps in men’s learning. You don’t remember all the things you did, let alone the things that happened when you were drunk. Lots of men fail in school because they were just too stoned to pay attention in class.
If you don’t learn skills as a teen you may need to go back and learn them when you get out of prison.
Men learn and are taught “real men” consume large quantities of substances.
Sorry guys, there are no supermen or men of steel among us. Even professional athletes get hurt. Real men do feel pain. The fact that we guys do not go to treatment for physical or psychological traumas results in men living fewer years and dying younger than their women companions.
Early and heavy use of substances, alcohol is especially implicated here, result in more illegal activities and send many men to jail or prison.
No, just drinking alcohol does not make you commit a crime, but most men who go to jail were drunk or high when they did that crime. Remember that alcohol shuts off the part of the brain that tells you “Hey stupid, don’t do that!”
Still, the myth that real men drink a lot and then do amazing feats of strength persists.
The majority of people with co-occurring disorders are men.
Men try to keep up this facade of invincibility right up to the grave. Men with mental health problems do not go for treatment. Mostly they use drugs and alcohol to cope with their mental illness and then end up in jail or prison.
The textbooks say that mental illness is more common in women than men. I do not believe that. I think those books are wrong. Women get counted as mentally ill because they get referred to outpatient clinics for treatment and they get counted there.
Men end up in prison and their diagnosis? They get labeled anti-social and told the problem is they are criminals. The result they keep trying to get well without accessing treatment.
Men are the homeless.
See pictures of homeless women on T. V.? The truth is that 80% of the homeless are men, men with a mental illness and a substance abuse problem mostly.
No, the homeless do not choose to be homeless. That is the lie that those with good paying jobs tell themselves so they do not have to worry about it happening to them.
Most homeless men have substance abuse problems. If you had to live like that you might abuse something to cope. They also have mental illnesses. They may not want to take jobs; they may be so demoralized they do not think they could work if they got one. But no, they do not like going to the bathroom outside or staying in the shade under the bridge all day in the over one hundred degree weather.
Most of the homeless would love to have a place to stay. They just do not see how they can get one.
The reason these men stay homeless? They keep wrestling with that bottle or pipe believing that they should be able to control that substance. They think the drug is their crutch, but it is their controller.
The reasons men start and continue to drink and use are different from women’s.
Women use substances for fun or because they have suffered a trauma and they want to forget. Men use and drink because they have to, are expected to. If you can’t drink a lot you might as well turn in your membership card in the man club right now. That’s what men were taught. This is not true.
There are real men, strong, effective and successful men who do not drink and do not do drugs. This notion that real men can hold their liquor, that is a fable. Eventually, everyone’s liver gets old and your tolerance declines. The amount you used to be able to do with no problem now gets you in trouble. Most real men eventually give it up.
We need to wrap this one up. I have painted a very bleak picture here, addicted, alcoholic homeless men. These are not the only men with a substance abuse problem. Substance abuse is a major men’s problem, even when that man looks perfectly normal. Drug addiction and alcoholism is also a women’s problem, though it affects women differently. For a long time, we only had special programs for women substance abusers. We now see both genders need help with this problem, so do children.
Turns out that this pesky weed, substance abuse, is involved with most every social problem we are willing to look at honestly.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings, and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books
- Social or anti-social drinker? Dangers of emotional drug use. (counselorssoapbox.com)